Can Food Force and WeTopia change the social gaming industry?

Food Force / WeTopia

Two ambitious Facebook games from commercial companies were launched into public beta this week. What Food Force and WeTopia have in common is at the heart of the “games for change” movement: a desire to inspire direct action and real-world impact through engaging gameplay. Each follows a very different journey into the marketplace.

From Konami Digital Entertainment (makers of Dance Dance Revolution, Castlevania, and other hits) comes a significant expansion of their long-running support of the World Food Programme’s gaming initiatives. The result is the re-emergence of Food Force, one of the most successful early games for change titles. This spiritual sequel to the 2005 original boasts all of the bells and whistles of today’s social games and it is also Konami’s first free, social game.

Sojo Studios, a new entertainment company, made plenty of headlines this week with its first social game, WeTopia. The studio is gaining plenty of attention with news of its $8 million arsenal, a roster of partnerships with non-profits like Save the Children, Children’s Health Fund and buildOn, consumer brand advertisers, and Ellen DeGeneres as one its business investors and partners.

So is this a new era for games for social impact? Will we see more commercial game developers exploring opportunities beyond entertainment? Only time will tell, but let’s take a look at these two games to see where the future may be heading.

FOOD FORCE, THE FIRST HUMANITARIAN AID GAME


In 2005, the World Food Programme (WFP) funded and released one of the most successful games for change ever: Food Force. Created by the British game developers, Playerthree, and the Italian computer design studio Deepend, this PC game was downloaded over 6 million times and played by over 10 million players in 18 countries. In Food Force, players were transported to a fictitious, famine-stricken country in the midst of a civil war. Throughout the game’s six missions, players experienced the crucial steps needed for WFP to deliver large scale, humanitarian aid.

The reboot of the series has been developed and funded by the world-class game studio, Konami. This iteration of Food Force takes full advantage of the social web, as players must interact with each other in order to progress. This is done through buying crops, sending friends on missions, and buying virtual goods to boost performance. Money spent on these items directly funds WFP projects in the real world, such as campaigns that send daily meals to 20 million children every year. These crucial resources allow children to stay healthy and have the necessary energy to do well in school. To make a strong connection to their contributions, players can view their “real-life impact tracker”, a feature that shows them how many children their virtual good purchases are affecting.

Food Force has been in development for over two years and represents a significant advance in Konami’s commitment to supporting the goals of WFP, a collaboration that began in 2005 when they produced the original version of Food Force in Japanese.

As the world’s largest humanitarian aid agency, WFP is no stranger to the power of gaming and has forged impactful relationships with commercial developers – both in creating its own games (such as Free Rice) and by serving as the beneficiary of large-scale socially conscious campaigns run by Zynga and other game studios.

Food Force has been released in English and Japanese and you can find the official press release here.

You can play Food Force on Facebook now.

***

WeTOPIA, DELIVERING “JOY” IN A REAL WAY


Every company seeks its “secret sauce.” The newly launched entertainment company Sojo Studios is counting on the desire of social game lovers to feel driven to Play for Good ™.

Sojo’s business model is a hybrid that allows them to continually generate revenue, both through advertisers and sponsors (such as Mattel and Clorox) as well as players’ purchases of social goods in-game, with a mandate to donate 50% of the net profits (never less than 20% revenue) to its charity beneficiaries. As future games are created and published, additional causes and associated nonprofit organizations from around the world will be considered.

The business model evolved out of entrepreneur and founder Lincoln Brown’s own passion and involvement in causes, most recently Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. His vision for WeTopia and the company’s other games is not only to give people a powerful and fun way to give back, but to allow them to see where the money is actually going and to keep track of its real-world impact.

While WeTopia’s gameplay will be familiar to those who play building games (i.e., creating homes, making businesses thrive, farming for resources), its fund raising model is brand new. Some social games allow players to buy virtual goods with Facebook credits with a fraction of the cost going to aid programs. In WeTopia’s case, players gain a special form of currency called “Joy”. As players accumulate Joy by playing the game, they can spend it on individual, real world campaigns.

Currently, WeTopia is in an “open beta”, but soon players will receive updates via blogs, photos, and videos from the campaigns to get a ’reality glimpse’ of what their Joy has brought.

For the official press release, click here.

WeTopia is playable on Facebook now.

***

We applaud these ambitious efforts coming from the commercial sector and will keep the community updated on their progress over the coming months, including in-depth interviews with the principals. In the meantime, please check out the games and share your thoughts on Food Force and WeTopia with us below or on the Games for Change Facebook fan page.

COMMENTS

14 Responses to Can Food Force and WeTopia change the social gaming industry?

  1. Seluron says:

    Look at the number and consider:

    Their only income is:
    1. Corporate sponsors
    2. Virtual goods

    Advertisers will only give money if they can push their products online; so far I haven’t seen much advertising in the game, so I wonder how much they are really paying. But yes, assuming they pay up, here Sojo is really CREATING NEW DONATIONS for the charities it supports.

    If you buy virtual goods, things get much more tricky. They use facebook credits, so if you buy a virtual good of 10 USD, 3 USD already go to Facebook. Of the 7 USD that remain, Sojo is committed to give “at least 20% to a charity — of 7 USD this is 1.4 USD!! So of your virtual donation, only 1.4 USD actually go to the foundation.

    And then, not all of your donation necessarily goes to the foundation you chose. All profit Sojo makes, including your virtual good money, goes into ONE POT. Players essentially vote for “their” charity by giving their “joy” to it, but:

    Says on the site:

    “Every day, WeTopia tallies the amount of Joy that you and other WeTopia players give to each project on that day. WeTopia then takes 50% of the profit earned on that day (never to be less than 20% of that day’s revenue) and allocates it to the projects, based on the percentage of total Joy given to each project on that day.”

    So you could spend tons of real hard cash on virtual goods any given day, but if only a few other players give “joy” to the same charity as you did, most of that money may end up at ANOTHER charity – one that got more “joy” that day.

    So the claim that you can track what your “joy” is used for is not really true, in fact, your “targeted” donation may end up somewhere else.

    Other than a revenue model for Sojo, I’ not sure now much “disruptive change” this is — I mean, 86% overhead on your donation, and you can’t even be sure it gets to where you want it to go?… Think about it.

  2. T says:

    Something is better than nothing, have to start somewhere~

  3. Robert Dozier says:

    Wetopia is not a cheap game for owners to maintain. Compared to Food Force it could be called magnificent… so far. I’m sure the makers of Wetopia need that extra profit to keep a competitive pace. Keep the gamers’ attention, or you have nothing.

  4. greenholly says:

    i cannot seem to play the game. can someone help

  5. me987456 says:

    Quote: So you could spend tons of real hard cash on virtual goods any given day, but if only a few other players give “joy” to the same charity as you did, most of that money may end up at ANOTHER charity – one that got more “joy” that day. /Quote

    Answer (from as stated to be): WeTopia then takes 50% of the profit earned on that day (never to be less than 20% of that day’s revenue) and ***allocates*** it to the projects, based on the percentage of total Joy given to each project on that day.”

    ***emphasis mine***

    Allocates means that it is divvied up. As is totals are assigned to each charity and paid out on their percentage of the 50% of total revenue of a day.

    It sounds legit. I need to see more before I decide a final yes/no… but all signs are pointing at go so far.

  6. lucas says:

    all those haters who really do’nt care about poor people should lean a lesson because justin bieber is a very insperantionl singer he even made a song called pray

  7. Diane says:

    I love playing the game and giving Joy, but I cannot always get into it to play. What’s going on? It’s frustrating, because my crops always wilt.

  8. Gary Arthur Rex Hirama says:

    Hi guys, i love what you do but have one request, could yas work with google & playstation to get an application that works with PS3, i’m sure they will find it in there best interest to support your cause & i for one would love to be able to play without having to go to a cyber caffe

  9. Margo says:

    Love the game I would love to see all the money that i play go to help the Salvation Army Here Gibsons Bc Canada I only play the free game

  10. gracylepcha says:

    guddddddddddddd gameeeeeeeeeee…………..

  11. Janina says:

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    yet effective. A lot of times it’s challenging to get that "perfect balance" between usability and visual appeal. I must say that you’ve done
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  12. jean says:

    the game is good

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